up front - Watching the Numbers

By now, I’m sure you’ve read – several times, perhaps – my article outlining IBM’s financial performance during the second quarter of this year.

Statistics can be fun to track. If you’re a baseball fan, you’re well aware Roger Maris’s record of 61 home runs in 1961 is in real jeopardy of being broken by the end of September. Perhaps you’ve even charted Mark McGwire or Ken Griffey Jr.’s progress in weekly increments and projected the exact game each will take his 62nd trip around the bases.

Statistics don’t tell the whole story. Even if McGwire or Griffey hit 70 home runs each, it is quite likely neither of their teams will be in contention for the playoffs this season. Does this diminish their individual performances?

Let me attempt to tie this baseball analogy back to IBM. The AS/400 sold well during the second quarter, but IBM’s overall server business was down. This raises a question as to whether IBM is diluting its potential on individual platforms by not adequately defining each server brand’s role in the enterprise.

The AS/400’s double-digit growth tells you the midrange server is not having trouble finding its way into the enterprise. But does the growing popularity of the Netfinity server, the persistence of the RS/6000 and the AS/400e’s scalability into mainframe territory confuse the paying public?

I recently read one analyst comment that IBM needs to create "clear fields of fire for each of its four main server lines." That’s the long way of saying that IBM’s server business is like a team, and each machine has its own role to play within an enterprise. I agree with this analyst’s further assessment that more focus by IBM on distinguishing its server brands is likely to better keep competitors like Sun and HP at bay.

When a team plays like a team, it’s much harder for the competition to expose its weaknesses. IBM claims to be on track with "market management," spreading the word about server brand integration within heterogeneous IT environments. I’m anxious to see how the second half of the season plays out, both for IBM and Major League Baseball.